We regularly find that, no matter how accomplished or well-trained they are, parents (mostly moms) who have decided it’s time to return to the workforce struggle with their confidence. It is as if returning-to-work parents feel as though they have forgotten the secret work handshake that they used to know. They are nagged by concerns about how much things have changed since they hit the career pause button.
And building up our confidence is a funny thing, isn’t it? It doesn’t always respond to straightforward logic. For example, it’s generally helpful to get these workforce returners to reflect on their past success and to objectively evaluate whether they truly lost a capability that they had in the past, but it’s not usually the fix that we would hope. This kind of effort tends to help, but only a little. And so rather than a strict appeal to the logical side of their work confidence, we often have to get at the confidence thing creatively and through their emotional side, with clear strategies to address some of the most common challenges.
And at the end of the day, what we often find is that these returners are afraid of what they don’t know. They don’t know what work is like since they took their “temporary retirement,” and that unknown creates a real fear. No one ever wants to fail or look bad in the eyes of their colleagues. Feeling like you have to learn a new job, figure out a new company culture, and also try and live within the unspoken rules and norms of a new workplace is a daunting challenge.
Making sure that you are successful at work, after taking six years or twelve years off is hard enough. But when you layer on top of that the need to build a whole new set of important relationships in order to be successful in that new job, well that creates an additional layer of complexity. And in a lot of ways, we are all trying to avoid experiences where we feel like the new kid going into the school cafeteria for the first time with no one to sit with and praying that the place you choose to sit doesn’t break some custom that everyone else kn0ws. It would be so much better if things on the first day could be easy and relaxed and you could focus on picking up where you left off.

We don’t want to make believe that the returning parent’s skills might not be a bit rusty or that there will be a learning curve at their new job because there certainly will be. But in our work, we remind these parents that there is always a learning curve associated with a new job. Always. And people still change jobs all of the time. We also remind them of their history of learning, from the fact that they graduated from college and then learned to manage clients, to the fact that they even learned how to get into that ridiculously complicated pick-up line at their child’s school. Remember how complicated that seemed at first?

And returning to work should be a great transition in your life. We hear all the time how parents look forward to working on a team, toward a goal, and not feeling like an on-call Uber driver (without the sticker in the window or any of the pay). And it turns out, there are all sorts of ways to mitigate the back-to-work concerns– workable strategies that can make the transition easier, less fraught with anxiety, and maybe even a little fun. I’ll be talking more about them in future articles, but if you’d like to talk about your situation in advance of that, just give me a call or send me an email.

John Philbin

John is a co-founder of Happy Work Spectacular Life who, if he wasn't helping people with their careers, would consider himself a ghost researcher. His claim to fame is that he is a champion race walker (he actually came in second place).